Travel Off the Beaten Path

Travel Off the Beaten Path

When you leave the comforts of the South East Asia tourist trail things are not quite as easy as they were in Thailand where you can, without any effort on your part at all, find yourself in a hostel bed, well fed with a beer in your hand.  The farther off the beaten track you find yourself the harder the travel is.  So, while all travelers strive to collect those coveted stories of being in a village with no other foreigners for miles the reality is that most likely this means no one can speak your language, make food that you are accustomed to or can digest and the accommodations as with everything else is built to the locals specifications, not visitors looking for a comfortable nights sleep.

So, why was it that we wanted to get off the beaten path?  I mean it’s so easy to stay on the road more traveled. Tourist services provide food, accommodations, and transportation that are convenient, clean and cheap.  Besides if it’s bragging rights you’re after, ironically getting off the beaten track won’t get you there since no one back home has probably ever heard of this new place you have discovered.  It wasn’t bragging rights or comfort I was after, but rather a chance to explore for myself what getting away from the crowds is like.  I found it was a bit dirtier and more difficult than I had expected.

This is not meant to dissuade you from wandering off the beaten track, but rather to add a dose of reality to your dreams.  We were ready and excited for this reality when we booked our tickets to Myanmar.  Although some may accuse me of making a stretch when I say that going to Myanmar is off the beaten track the statistics don’t lie.  In 2010 only roughly 280,000 people traveled to Myanmar (which is a 33% increase from 2009) versus well over 14 million that traveled to neighboring Thailand (source).  Many people choose to avoid Myanmar due to it’s dubious government track record among other things, however others simply aren’t interested in harder travel.

Myanmar may be visited by far fewer tourists each year than any other country in SE Asia, but it certainly isn’t going to land you anywhere that has never seen a foreigner, which makes it a great country to try out “off the beaten track” travel.  Making a stop in Myanmar gets you off the well-trodden backpacker trail, however once you arrive the tourist circuit is pretty well established.  In fact you will probably see everyone on your flight into the country in each of the “big four” cities (Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake) throughout your visit.  Not only because these are the highlights of the country, but because government restrictions make it hard to visit anywhere else within your allotted 28 days.  Don’t be disappointed, like I said you still got off the well-beaten tourist track and you’ll notice immediately the differences in comfort.

One of the best ways I have found to combat difficult travel is to remind myself that it’s about the journey not the destination and let go of expectations.  This is much easier said than done, especially if the journey takes twice as long as you had thought.  Transportation is often one of the first things that you will have to adjust to once you leave the tourist trail.  In Myanmar we found ourselves traveling via modes of transportation we had thought went out of style years ago.  We traveled by horse carts, ox carts, bicycle trishaws and tractors within cities and for long distance travel we enjoyed the “comfort” of hand-me-down Japanese buses.  These buses were often far from their “prime” whichwas at least 10 years ago if you’re lucky and sometimes as many as 40.  If the air conditioning works you’re doing well, but what you should really hope is that it doesn’t have a DVD player.  If it does you will be subjected to hours of Myanmar music videos alternated with soap operas, both of which will be played so loud you have no choice but to attempt to follow along.  Just another reminder that this experience was not tailored to your needs or interests.

Bicycle trishaw drivers waiting to take passengers where they want to go.

Another landmark of off the beaten track travel is the lowered cleanliness standards, which won’t bother the locals, but will get your attention. The sheer volume of bugs, dust and dirt that we encountered in our hotels, the restaurants and even our food was nothing short of amazing.  The heat (upwards of 100 F) didn’t help with keeping anything clean, including ourselves as I don’t think I have ever sweat so much in my life.

Trash along the railroad tracks that just keeps adding up

Don’t get me wrong, Myanmar was one of my favorite stops on the trip thus far, the sweating, long bus rides and dirty hotel rooms are small prices to pay for the rewards of visiting this gorgeous country.  Being able to enjoy the sunset over Bagan from the roof of our very own temple with no other travelers in sight and having the winding dirt roads along Inle Lake as our private bike path were wonderful experiences.  In fact it has only whet my apetite for more off the beaten track experiences.  Myanmar is a great introduction to challenging travel and a stop I would recommend to anyone.  Especially before you decided to head to a place where they really haven’t ever seen a foreigner and might decide to have you for dinner rather than serving you dinner even if it does have bugs in it.

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.


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